Horse blankets are a great training tool. They desensitize your horse to sensation all over his body, as well as introducing him to noise and pressure on his belly and legs. But if your horse has never worn a blanket, introducing them for the first time can be nerve-wracking for both horse and owner.
Set yourself up for success. If you’ve never introduced a horse to blankets before, it’s a good idea to have an experienced friend or trainer nearby to help. Start this process when your horse is in a relaxed and focused mindset. The best time to introduce blankets is most likely after a workout and on a sunny day with no wind or rain.
Train your horse to wear horse blankets well before you’ll need him to. The last thing you want is to be rushing the process on a cold winter night with a freshly clipped horse who needs to be blanketed right then and there. Your horse will sense your urgency and be that much more on alert and less likely to relax.
We’ve put together a three step process to introduce your horse to blankets slowly and efficiently.
Hold the blanket in one hand and your lead rope in the other. Approach the horse with the blanket and allow them to sniff it. Once they’re interacting with the blanket, walk away and take the horse blanket with you.
This act of allowing the horse to interact with the blanket for short intervals takes advantage of their natural curiosity. By retreating before they’re done inspecting the object, they’ll become more curious and interested, and less afraid.
If your horse will not allow you to approach with the blanket, try walking away from the horse with the blanket prominently in one hand and the horse following behind you. As much as possible, you should make the horse feel as though he’s “chasing” the blanket. This makes the horse feel as though he’s in control and makes him much less scared of the horse blanket. After you’ve allowed him to chase the blanket and built curiosity that way, return to the original step of approaching and retreating.
Keep repeating these actions until your horse seems bored with the blanket. You’ll be able to tell when this happens as he’ll stand still, completely relaxed, and uninterested in interacting with the horse blanket. He may even fall asleep or start yawning!
Once your horse is bored of inspecting the blanket, it’s time for you to touch him with it. This can be the trickiest part of the entire process. It helps if your horse has already been desensitized to saddle pads and the like.
When you first start, you want to be casual with the blanket, but you don’t want to flap it around or make it seem scarier than it is. If you try to sneak up on the horse with the blanket, the horse will instantly be on high alert. It’s better to act as though you and your horse have done this process a thousand times a day.
If your horse is really reactive to the blanket, start by folding it up into a small square. You can even roll it into a small cylinder. This makes it much less threatening to the horse. Once you can touch your horse all over with the horse blanket roll, start to slowly make it bigger and bigger until it is entirely unfurled and your horse is non-reactive to its presence.
When you first touch the horse with the blanket, start in a safe area like the shoulder, then gradually move towards more sensitive areas like the legs, belly, and hind end. Don’t allow the blanket to cross sides when you first start. Instead, only allow the horse blanket to touch the same side you’re standing on; otherwise the horse could startle at the sudden contact on the “wrong” side with a strange new object. However, do desensitize the horse to both sides. Once the horse is desensitized to both sides, you can start to allow the blanket to cross the spine.
If your horse does move away from you, do your best to keep the blanket touching his body until he stops moving away, then remove it. You don’t want your horse to learn that he can escape the blanket by moving away when it touches him.
Your goal is to be able to touch your horse with the blanket all over and from one side to the other while he is standing still and completely relaxed.
Now it’s time for the big moment– actually wearing the horse blanket! To start with, leave the leg and belly straps undone. Casually put the blanket on in an efficient and smooth manner that doesn’t create a lot of noise or unnecessary flapping.
Remember, you don’t want to be sneaky with the blanket. Think about putting it on as though you and the horse have done this a million times before, with a cool and confident attitude.
Practice taking the blanket on and off until the horse is relaxed and comfortable with it. Even though horse blankets are designed to be put on from the left side of the horse, practice both sides. It’s good training to have the horse comfortable with both sides of his body, and will help to desensitize him to movement, sensation, and noise on the right side as well as the left.
Don’t be afraid to use treats! Make wearing the horse blanket a good thing. Every time you put it on, offer your horse a treat, and then take off the blanket. Just don’t let your horse become pushy!
Once you can take the blanket on and off from both sides with no problem, you can start working on the straps. Hold the leg and belly straps in the correct position for a short period of time, then release. Do not buckle the straps, but do apply light pressure, as though they were buckled.
Be very careful working with the straps near the hind end as your horse could react badly to the new sensation. Remember, safety first! If you feel uncomfortable or as though you’re in danger at any time, stop and ask for help from a trainer.
You should gradually increase the amount of time the straps are pressed against the body until the horse is entirely non-reactive. Once the horse reaches this point, buckle the straps.
Take the horse for a short walk in a controlled area, like the round pen or riding arena, so he can get used to the feel of the blanket moving on his body.
At Breeches.com, we carry top horse blanket brands like TuffRider, Baker, and Horseware Ireland. Whether you’re looking for a sheet, medium weight, or heavy weight, we’ve got the blanket you’re looking for. We have a wide variety of necks, from no hood to ear to tail coverage and everything in between.
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